(CN) — Queen Elizabeth II, the beloved British monarch, died Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland at the age of 96. She was the longest-reigning monarch of the United Kingdom.
She died only two days after giving her official blessing to Britain's newest prime minister, Liz Truss, the country's third female leader.
As the head of the most famous monarchy and one of the world's most influential dynasties, she and her family are the subject of international attention, attracting both adoration and scorn.
Elizabeth's health has been closely guarded for years, causing her to go into seclusion during the coronavirus pandemic out of fear of infection. Still, she tested positive for Covid-19 in February and has suffered numerous health problems in recent years. The cause of her death was not immediately announced.
Her death resounded around the world and signaled a major turning point.
Elizabeth became queen in 1952 and she oversaw Britain's slow disintegration as an empire, but she was also hailed as a “rock” for a country undergoing massive – and painful – transformations following World War II.
She leaves the world stage at a moment of major crisis as a war rages in Ukraine and human survival is threatened by climate change.
Domestically, the existence of Great Britain itself is under threat because of the possibility that future British monarchs will rule over a diminished kingdom.
Following the cataclysmic decision by mostly English voters to reject the European Union, independence drives are advancing in Scotland and Northern Ireland and threatening to break apart the U.K. Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland rejected the idea of leaving the EU. Both regions also have deep grievances with England.
Elizabeth's son, Prince Charles, will take over as monarch. Charles has made a name for himself as an ardent environmentalist and a chief advocate of measures to combat climate change.
But he is also a divisive and complicated figure following the tragic death of his former wife, Princess Diana, in a traffic accident in Paris in 1997. After their marriage fell apart, Diana became the subject of constant surveillance by Britain's notoriously invasive media and she died when her driver tried to flee paparazzi.
Charles and other family members arrived at Balmoral Castle in the last moments of Elizabeth's life.
Britain was shocked by her death and quickly descended into national mourning.
When Elizabeth was 21, almost five years before she became queen, she promised the people of Britain and the Commonwealth that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”
It was a promise she kept across more than seven decades.
Despite Britain’s complex and often fraught ties with its former colonies, Elizabeth was widely respected and remained head of state of more than a dozen countries, from Canada to Tuvalu. She headed the 54-nation Commonwealth, built around Britain and its former colonies.
Married for more than 73 years to Prince Philip, who died in 2021 at age 99, Elizabeth was matriarch to a royal family whose troubles were a subject of global fascination -- amplified by fictionalized accounts such as the TV series “The Crown.” She is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Through countless public events, she probably met more people than anyone in history. Her image, which adorned stamps, coins and banknotes, was among the most reproduced in the world.
But her inner life and opinions remained mostly an enigma. Of her personality, the public saw relatively little. A horse owner, she rarely seemed happier than during the Royal Ascot racing week. She never tired of the companionship of her beloved Welsh corgi dogs.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in London on April 21, 1926, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York. She was not born to be queen -- her father’s elder brother, Prince Edward, was destined for the crown, to be followed by any children he had.
But in 1936, when she was 10, Edward VIII abdicated to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, and Elizabeth’s father became King George VI.
In 1952, George VI died at 56 after years of ill health. Elizabeth, on a visit to Kenya, was told that she was now queen.
Her private secretary, Martin Charteris, later recalled finding the new monarch at her desk, “sitting erect, no tears, color up a little, fully accepting her destiny.”
“In a way, I didn’t have an apprenticeship,” Elizabeth reflected in a BBC documentary in 1992 that opened a rare view into her emotions. “My father died much too young, and so it was all a very sudden kind of taking on, and making the best job you can.”
Her coronation took place more than a year later, a grand spectacle at Westminster Abbey viewed by millions through the still-new medium of television.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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